Productivity and agility



As it stands, I view productivity as balancing efficiency, effectiveness, scope, and speed in a given context. Agility is the ease at which you can adjust that balance when the context changes.

Efficiency is about waste; input minus output. Effectiveness is about quality; not only the quality of the outcome but of the journey in producing the outcome. Scope is about the quantity; this is usually limited to the amount of stuff. Speed is just time over distance.

You can think of these as levers, which is popular in the parlance of our time.

These qualities are interconnected. If one lever is increased, most likely, other levels will need to be decreased; sometimes increasing one may increase another. Further, there is no universal and timeless position. There is only appropriate to the context.

Let’s consider a cheetah and a tortoise.

When the cheetah is moving at top speed, the context is eating and survival; it’s not always moving at top speed. Further, the speed lever is topped out and the efficiency lever is very low; the physical qualities of the cheetah are such that it’s essentially hyperventilating as it runs. Finally, if the cheetah is not effective in its hunt, it could either overheat while running or never eat; in either case it dies.

Meanwhile, the tortoise is physically limited in how fast it can move. The distance the speed lever can go up is not the same as the one for the cheetah. Luckily, the context of the tortoise, when it comes to eating, doesn’t require chasing live food. Efficiency is relatively high for breathing and arguably lower for movement.

Both the cheetah and tortoise are considered productive, to a certain degree, because they survive.

On to agility.

I place agility as its own lever sitting off to the side.

Agility is your ability to change the position of the productivity levers.

Consider an Olympic sprinter. Their mission is to go as fast as they can over a given distance; usually in a straight line. The speed lever is high and the position for the others depends on the form of the runner, for example.

Agility would be measured by their ability to change direction, stop, or respond to another hazard.

Agility depends on the frequency of feedback (feedback loops) and your ability to interpret and adjust based on the feedback.

Let’s say I have some negative behavior. If I don’t receive feedback on that negative behavior for, say, a decade or longer then it will most likely be harder for me to adjust; low agility. I’m already sprinting with the habit.

Productivity theater

Section titled Productivity theater

There are a couple things often associated with productivity I have a low tolerance for, one of which is productivity for its own sake; also known as productivity theater.

For me, this means I’m busy and moving, but I’m not actually improving things around me.

I worked at McDonald’s. When it comes to standardization, where I worked had it on lock; been years and not sure they still do. Cooking this type of thing? This how to do it. Food item been on a shelf this long? Do this with it.

All of it was listed somewhere with a timeline associated to it. Even cleaning different areas of the place.

Sometimes though, not often but sometimes, there was nothing to do; we were idle.

Being idle was not allowed. So, we were instructed to either leave the floor (eyesight of customers) or stand there looking busy; broom in hand or wiping the same spot on the counter.

The value argument here was the psychology of the customers.

If they don’t see us doing something, they may believe the store isn’t clean or we don’t care for the store; theater.

What I saw this sometimes inspire is a lack of desire to improve processes or become more efficient. It doesn’t matter if I figure out a way to clean the bathroom in half the time, because I’m not rewarded with relaxation afterward. Of course, this also means during busy times I may not get a window of opportunity to clean the bathroom.

On idleness

Section titled On idleness

One of the promises of advancements in productivity has been more free time.

The premise being: If you can create the same output with less input, you can have more free time. And yet, we often see people who accomplish the ability to increase value delivery while reducing input and we throw more stuff at them. The promised benefit of increased productivity consistently being moved.

I’m a productivity super freak. For some, they want to get stuff done so they can move on to the things they want to do. For me, I often want to get stuff done—specifically in a more productive fashion—because I love the feeling of flow. The more flow and idle time I can create, the more I can respond productively to an emergency.

The hours put in are not related to the value delivered. The effort put in isn’t related to the value delivered.

If the value delivered was based on more time and effort, then Rube Goldberg machines would be the machines of industry.